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Men's Rugby League Aussies and Kiwis pull out of World Cup over Covid-19 fears

INTERNATIONAL Rugby League (IRL) chair Troy Grant has strongly criticised the decision of Australia and New Zealand to pull out of the World Cup in England and says some of their players are now considering switching allegiances to enable them to take part in the tournament.

Anger is mounting over the decision, which Australia and New Zealand says has been made because of the worsening Covid-19 situation in Britain which has made it “simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over.”

Grant, who says he finds it difficult to find the words that adequately describe his disappointment, will liaise with World Cup organisers to decide the next step.

“My job from here is to understand the local organising committee’s and UK government’s attitude towards continuing with the RLWC [Rugby League World Cup] without Australia and New Zealand, if that is a viable option, or consider other options available to us,” Grant said.

“The next week will be critical but despite whatever happens my job as IRL chair is to pick up the pieces of international rugby league’s tarnished reputation.”

Grant says he remains in contact with the Australian Players Association (RLPA) and believes players such as Kangaroos full-back James Tedesco could be tempted to switch his allegiance back to Italy, for whom he played in the 2017 World Cup.

“I have been in regular communication with the RLPA and a number of international players and coaches who have been satisfied with the World Cup’s bio-security arrangements and expressed a clear determination to travel to England and proudly represent their nations,” the Australian said.

“They have expressed to me that they feel their own personal choice to participate or not in the World Cup has been taken from them.

“The RLPA have again committed to continue to work with IRL and the Local Organising Committee towards a 2021 tournament including Australian and New Zealand players who have dual eligibility and who are now keen to play for other nations.”

Organisers are frantically trying to work out their next step after being caught on the hop by the decision, which came just seven days after it was announced the tournament would go ahead as planned.

A joint statement from the two nations said: “The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) today informed the International Rugby League and Rugby League World Cup organisers that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns.

“The ARLC and NZRL have again requested the RLWC2021 be postponed until 2022 to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player wellbeing.

“The ARLC and NZRL have resolved that in the present environment the risks to athletes and officials travelling to the UK to participate in the tournament this year are too great, and it is unable to endorse Australia and New Zealand participating in the RLWC in 2021.”

It remains to be seen whether the tournament can now go ahead in 2021 without Australia, who have won the tournament a record 11 times, and 2008 champions New Zealand.

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